Concerning Hobbits

If you know me well, you’ll be aware that I’m a bit of a Tolkien nut. I’m not one of those Tolkien nuts who is learning to speak Elvish, but in relative terms, I’m a big fan.

Huw Williams | 21:25, Wednesday 25 January 2012 | Turin, Italy

So it’ll be no surprise to learn that I’ve been reading The Hobbit. Like all great stories, I enjoy reading it again and again. Even on the umpteenth reading, there are still things I notice that I hadn’t seen before.

What strikes me again this time is the care with which Tolkien tells his tale, the attention to mood and colour. For example:-

“They walked in single file. The entrance to the path was like a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves. The path itself was narrow and wound in and out among the trunks. Soon the light at the gate was like a little bright hole far behind, and the quiet was so deep that their feet seemed to thump along while all the trees leaned over them and listened.”

Now I am no writer, but I’d say that that is a brilliant start a chapter. In one brief paragraph the reader enters the world of Bilbo Baggins and his companions. It is an old and very real world which we enter very willingly because we are engaged. For me, Tolkien is a master-handler of narrative.

It challenges me in terms of our view of an even greater narrative. As we’ve been trying to get to grips with the grand narrative of the Bible in our Bible in Ten series here in Turin, we have embarked on an adventure so infinitely vaster, greater and more exciting than even Tolkien’s adventures in Middle Earth. It’s an adventure that spans from Creation to New Creation. It is a love story, a rescue story, a story of heroism, betrayal, loyalty, a story of a journey to a better place, a story of victory and glory.

But it’s the handling of this story that we so often fall down on, isn’t it? In God’s great story we meet so many colourful characters along the way. Last Sunday for us it was Abraham, this Sunday it will be Moses, we won’t even have time on this tour to look much at Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, Joshua, all those Judges, Ruth, and so on.

And it’s not just the characters we meet, but also the genres we encounter along the way. Nail biting narrative, ecstatic poetry, meticulously researched and presented history, and so on. Sure, some genres are harder for us to get our heads around than others. But when we look at this variety as Bible readers, Bible teachers and Bible preachers, isn’t it true that sometimes our familiarity leads us to ‘flatten things out’ a bit?

I believe that the Bible narrative is even more skilled and nuanced than Tolkien in how it tells it’s story. But the challenge to us all as readers is whether or not we have eyes to see it.  And whether or not we will re-present this colour and variety in our teaching and preaching.

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